Comment: By Mitch Foyle-York
Had you found yourself in Bucharest as recently as a month ago, you would have thought yourself trapped in some kind of Sci-fi time portal. If it wasn’t for the modern fashion sense and mobile phones of those around you, and their more peaceful nature, you would have been forgiven for thinking you had been teleported to the 1989 Revolution against the Ceausescu regime. More than 100,000 people had taken to the streets to protest against a decree passed by the Romanian Social Democratic government. This decree was, at least in the eyes of the Romanian population, designed to cover up corruption offences, and to protect those who had taken part in such illegal activities.
There are, without even the smallest shadow of doubt, major differences between the recent protests against the Grindeanu Cabinet and the Revolution of 1989. The latter was a bloody affair, but not as sadistic, twisted and inhumane as the many years of Communist rule and totalitarian dictatorship under the murderous Ceausescu. In mid-December 1989, protests against the Communist regime took place in the city of Timisoara. Ceausescu ordered his officers to shoot the protesters, leading to the massacre of 97 men and women. In the name of vanity and propaganda, the Communists then held a pro-Government rally in Bucharest following the murders, which would, little to the knowledge of Ceausescu and his supporters, be the dictator’s last stand.
During the speech, Ceausescu was interrupted by jeers and screams – the protesters had arrived! He did, perhaps quite arrogantly, raise his hand in the direction of the yells, as though his mere presence would be enough to silence them. However, this was not the case, and the old dictator was brought back down to earth. And thus, the Romanian Revolution begun. Though the revolution only lasted a matter of days, it took many a life. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were captured within a matter of days, and were tried under court martial. After being declared guilty of genocide, the dictator and his wife were then executed by firing squad; their bloodied corpses projected on television screens across the world.
Now, fast forward to the present. Even as we speak, there are still protests of some kind taking place over in Romania. Although, now that the decree has been withdrawn, it seems as though the largest demonstrations are out of the way. It is often said, especially by many of us pessimistic Brits, that protest is useless. Our Romanian friends, however, have buried such an attitude.
The Romanian Prime Minister acknowledged the protests were “a very good thing for the country” and that the decree and governments intentions “had been badly communicated”. I am in agreement with the first part of his spin; protests are certainly good for countries and democracy (particularly when that country with a legacy of dictatorship).
The emergency decree, proposed by Grindeanu and his cabinet, would have decriminalized cases of corruption below the €45,000 threshold. The general population of Romania interpreted the bill as an attempt by the political class to protect themselves from prosecution. The politicians themselves tried to convince the electorate otherwise. Florin Iordache, the then Justice Minister, who resigned from his position following the protests, said the decree was put forward to abide by laws set by the European Court of Human Rights. But, to the disappointment of Iordache and the Social Democrats , the public did not take the bait. Interestingly enough, had the decree been put into practice, Romania would have seen the official pardoning, or amnesty, of shamed Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea, who, back in 2015, received a suspended prison sentence for attempting to interfere in a referendum on whether or not President Basescu’s removal should stand as a fair and legitimate decision.
Although there are major differences between the 2017 protests and the Revolution of 1989, both took place in the same spirit; the spirit of Romania. Many places, like the United Kingdom, take democracy for granted. Take the 2014 MEP elections, where the national turnout was around 35%; a small turnout to decide such an important decision. Romanians, on the other hand, remember all too well the days or repression, totalitarianism, and the executions of their innocent brothers and sisters.
This year, a year in which so much negativity has been conjured, following hugely a divisive EU referendum in the UK and the election of a controversial US President just a few months later, the Romanians have lit a candle of hope. Romania is a nation that you simply have to respect for its bravery and determination to achieve a well-deserved democracy. Although many innocent Romanians were slaughtered under Ceausescu and during the revolution, their spirit of defending freedom, fairness and democracy clearly lives on.